Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the insufferable sufficiency of breath

NOT unto us, O Lord,
Not unto us the rapture of the day,
The peace of night, or love's divine surprise,
High heart, high speech, high deeds 'mid honouring eyes;
For at Thy word
All these are taken away.

Not unto us, O Lord:
To us thou givest the scorn, the scourge, the scar,
The ache of life, the loneliness of death,
The insufferable sufficiency of breath;
And with Thy sword
Thou piercest very far.

Not unto us, O Lord:
Nay, Lord, but unto her be all things given--
My light and life and earth and sky be blasted--
But let not all that wealth of loss be wasted:
Let Hell afford
The pavement of her Heaven!
This is "Non Nobis" by Henry Cust. It appeared first anonymously and then with due credit in the Oxford Book of English Verse early in the 20th century. It is the 16th poem that Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

First of a consecutive series of 11 poems that Lawrence put in Minorities out of OBEV. One (number 5) preceded and others would follow. This is not surprising since he had carried the Quiller-Couch OBEV with him during his wartime service in the Arab states.

The editor of Minorities says that Cust was a relative of a colleague of Lawrence's during the war. He relates this anecdote: "In Law­rence's copy of the O.E.V. this poem is dated 22.xi.I7. Lawrence was at Azrak on this date (see Chapter LXXXI of Seven Pillars), two days earlier he had been captured during a reconnaissance at Deraa, and brutally treated by the Turks. On the morning of the 21st he escaped, and returned to Azrak, but could not face the prospect of a winter's diplomacy there with the smooth northern townspeople who now came to make contact with the Arab forces. Instead he set out on November 23rd for Akaba."

According to his wikipedia entry, Cust was an randy aristocrat, editor of an influential periodical, and a Conservative Member of Parliament.

It says Cust was a member of a group called The Souls, were a small, loosely-knit but distinctive social group of prominent and well-born men and women including author Margot Asquith, who wrote:
Mr. Harry Cust is the last of the Souls that I intend writing about and was in some ways the rarest and the most brilliant of them all. Some one who knew him well wrote truly of him after he died:
He tossed off the cup of life without fear of it containing any poison, but like many wilful men he was deficient in will-power.
. . . Harry Cust had an untiring enthusiasm for life. At Eton he had been captain of the school and he was a scholar of Trinity. He had as fine a memory as Professor Churton Collins or my husband and an unplumbed sea of knowledge, quoting with equal ease both poetry and prose. He edited the Pall Mall Gazette brilliantly for several years. With his youth, brains and looks, he might have done anything in life; but he was fatally self-indulgent and success with my sex damaged his public career. He was a fastidious critic and a faithful friend, fearless, reckless and unforgettable.

He wrote one poem, [Non Nobis] which appeared anonymously in the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900, ed. by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
Published by Clarendon Press, (Clarendon, 1908)

Margot Asquith, an Autobiography, by Margot Asquith (George H. Doran company, 1920)

An Autobiography, by Margot Asquith (George H. Doran company, 1920)

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